Gifted & Talented Challenge

nov5tv.jpgI actually wrote this a week ago whilst I was in Ukraine, and then discovered I’d failed to bring my password file. Sadly, the promise of worldwide access isn’t completely idiot-proof.

Geography author Paul Laird invited Alex (our CTO) me up to Huntcliff School last week to help launch the Redcar & Cleveland Gifted and Talented Challenge.

What Paul is doing is really innovative; pitting gifted kids from each of the participating schools against each other in teams to perform a series of challenges, and holding the whole thing together with a variety of web tools. Getting meaningful collaboration between schools is a huge benefit to the gifted kids, who often find themselves quite isolated and without a natural peer group in their own schools. There are benefits beyond G&T as well; cross-fertilisation of teaching ideas, for example.

Alex and I got really engrossed in Paul’s vision and came away wondering what we could do to support it, beyond hosting the quiz component which we already do. If you are doing or planning an inter-school competition I’d love to hear from you. And if there is a way we can support your efforts, we will gladly do it.

BBC Jam

So it’s bye-bye BBC Jam, or at least au-revoir.

If you have not been following this story, BBC Jam was the renamed BBC Digital Curriculum, which aimed to produce high quality online learning materials for up to half the English curriculum. It has now been suspended following some legal argy-bargy.

Plenty of pundits have weighed in with opinions about whether Jam was a good or a bad service, and just what its demise (if permanent) might mean, so I won’t. If you are interested, here is a pro-Jam post and here’s an anti-Jam post.

What struck me was just how small it was for something that has eaten £150M of the taxpayer’s money. After two years of effort by what must have been a very large team, they had 170,000 users. That sounds like a lot until you do the arithmetic. Supporting those users cost £882 each.

At that ratio, Yacapaca’s 359,455 members (as of 13:08 this afternoon) would have cost Chalkface just over £317M. Which happily it didn’t, as I would have had to do rather more than just re-mortgage the house to fund it.

What on earth did they spend all that money on?

Pokrovsky Cathedral

Pokrovsky Cathedral spires

My thanks to the software team for looking after me in Kharkov so well last week. I was there to lay the groundwork for some really exciting new features we have planned for Yacapaca; not stuff I can talk about yet.

What I can talk about is the beautiful Pokrovsky Cathedral (photo); largely restored since my last visit. I was fortunate to have a flat with a great view of both Pokrovsky and Kharkov’s other two cathedrals, Blagoveschensky and Uspensky. Click on the photo for a few more pics.

When will Google pass the Turing Test?

I alluded to this idea last December, and it seems Larry Page has been thinking along the same lines – unsurprisingly, as Google is his company. I’m sticking with my prediction of 2013, but he seems to be hinting he thinks it will be sooner than that.

To paraphrase my previous post:

So far, you’ve seen computers in schools as things for kids to do spreadsheets or, gawdhelpus, Powerpoint presentations on. A combined typewriter and adding machine. But in fact, you already use one supercomputer regularly; it’s called Google. In future you will use many more without even thinking about it. And just how super do I mean? According to futurologist Ray Kurzweil, we can expect computer intelligence to match our own by 2013 (see graph) – just six years from now.

Try this thought-experiment. Thinks of fairly complex web search, the sort where you are not confident Google would give you the answers you need. Now imagine that Google gets a program that would allow it to write back to you and ask questions about your search, to understand it better. Plausible? Good. Now imagine that over four or five years, Google refine this program to the point where you can’t really tell whether it’s the program asking you questions, or another human being. Still plausible? Well guess what, your imaginary Google has just passed the Turing Test, the best-established benchmark for human-like intelligence in computers.

My takeaway from Larry’s presentation:

…there is less information in your DNA (about 600 MB) than in a modern operating system.

I suspect that is debatable as we still know very little about how DNA compresses information, but it is still a great start point for thinking about the issue.